Mike Wangge, Jakarta – Scores of activists made a breakthrough by holding a solidarity action to support human rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti at the Hotel Indonesia (HI) traffic circle in Central Jakarta.
The activists held the action to coincide with Car Free Day (CFD) on Sunday, January 7, when political activities are banned.
During the action the participants tried to invite members of the public who were enjoying Car Free Day to be more sensitive to the issue of freedom of expression and opinion which they see as being under threat and facing widespread restrictions.
Even though the action took place in an atmosphere that was supposed to be relaxed, Public Order Agency officers (Satpol PP) arrived at the location to deal with the protest.
The participants were eventually asked to disperse as they were considered to be disturbing public order in the area.
Following negotiations with the head of the Kwitang Village Satpol PP, Erwin Cahya Kusuma, the activists were finally allowed to unfurl a banner at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle for one minute only for the purpose of taking photographs.
However, despite being given permission, after leaving the traffic circle the participants were instructed to fold up the banner as they marched towards the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment.
Upon arriving in front of the ministry, they were allowed to unfurl the banner again.
The incident raised questions about the limits on freedom of expression and opinion in public spaces, as well as the response of the Satpol PP which continued to monitor and regulate the action.
The East Jakarta District Court, which has been trying Maulidiyanti and Azhar on charges of defamation brought against them by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, is due to hand down a verdict on the case tomorrow, Monday January 8.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Satpol PP DKI Bubarkan Aksi Solidaritas Dukung Haris Azhar-Fatia di Bundaran HI".]